Briefing n.9 9/2021 – G20, the pandemic as a litmus test of the absolute need for multilateralism

The organisation of a G20 Presidency requires extensive and lengthy planning, starting long before the mandate is undertaken and following a precise design to identify the thematic priorities to be discussed during the forum meetings and in terms of logistical organisation. The pandemic literally overturned this approach. The consequences were mainly two: the reconversion of the thematic priorities in light of Covid-19; the logistical reorganisation of the meetings, often to be held in hybrid formats. Everything has been reoriented to the pandemic emergency. After all, this is – and continues to be – the most immediate global challenge we are facing and for which the G20, from the outset, has represented one of the primary contexts in which to focus the confrontation between the membership and the adoption of shared choices. In other words, it is a real test of the effectiveness of multilateralism and its vitality.


The three pillars of the Italian G20 Presidency

The three pillars of the lintel of the Italian G20 Presidency – the three P’s of People, Planet and Prosperity – have therefore been primarily reconsidered in all their aspects, in such a way as to be declined along the most current priority lines dictated by the health emergency. The first pillar, People, initially focused on the fight against inequalities, the future of work, development and education, has been adapted to include discussions on the spread of smart working and the adaptation of social protection instruments to the changed conditions triggered by the pandemic. The second pillar, Planet, in addition to the themes of combating climate change and the energy-climate nexus, also paid particular attention to green recovery, understood as post-pandemic recovery under the banner of sustainability and as an opportunity to accelerate the green transition. Finally, the third pillar, Prosperity, which initially focused on the social and economic consequences of technological and digital innovation and international trade, has also broadened its scope to include the digitisation of health systems and the commitment to keeping global supply chains open, which are essential for ensuring (among other things) the production of the vaccines: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine alone is made up of 280 components from 19 different countries.


Global health, the pandemic dictates the fourth pillar of the Italian G20 Presidency

The theme of global health has, in fact, become the fourth pillar of the Italian G20 Presidency. One need only think of the continued and renewed support for the Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A, the central platform for global cooperation against the pandemic), the post-Covid reconstruction under the principles of sustainability, inclusiveness and resilience, all the initiatives in the financial field aimed at alleviating the debt burden on the most disadvantaged countries, and the efforts to finance the global commons in the area of pandemic preparedness and response.


The impact and consequences of the pandemic guided G20 discussions

The Italian presidency picked up the impact and consequences of the pandemic (and, before that, by the Saudi presidency) to reorient the forum’s discussions and channel them into what became a real ‘G20 mantra’, the now-famous concept of “build back better”. This concept contains two crucial lines of action: the first, with a strongly sanitary and “emergency” imprint, is aimed at tackling the current pandemic in the best possible way and identifying the most suitable tools to prevent or manage any similar pandemics in the future; the second, is strongly projected into the future and aims to “exploit” the powerful “interventionist” reaction of governments following the dramatic social and economic consequences of the pandemic for a fairer, greener, sustainable reconstruction: a better one, precisely.


What does this mean in terms of Italy’s national interest?

We have now passed the halfway mark of the Italian Presidency of the G20. About eight months after taking office, what is the state of things? The situation is favourable, and multilateralism is alive and healthy. Centrifugal impulses from the multilateral method continue to emerge in fits and starts, almost as if we wanted to safeguard a unilateral system that no longer responds to today’s reality – which, on the contrary, requires increasingly broad deep and synergic forms of international cooperation. Thanks also to the strong impetus given to multilateral issues by the Biden Administration, tangible results have already been achieved: think of the discussions on global taxation or the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, crucial areas in which, in these same weeks, flattering goals have been achieved that were unthinkable until a few months ago, first at the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Venice on 9-10 July, and then at the Energy-Climate meeting in Naples that has just taken place.


International cooperation to prevent and deal with pandemics and health crises

In the course of these eight months of the Italian Presidency, we must not forget a particularly important event that took place last May, the Global Health Summit, organised in collaboration with the European Commission, which led to the adoption of the “Rome Declaration,” reaffirming the importance of international cooperation in preventing and effectively addressing health crises. It is a significant result with a very pronounced multilateral approach, made all the more necessary in the face of the numerous national ‘routes’ that characterised the very early period of the pandemic.


A strong message of support for multilateralism

Equally important is the ‘Matera Declaration’, the result of the joint meeting (the first in the history of the G20) of the G20 Foreign and Development Ministers last June, which, in reiterating the strong message of support for effective multilateralism and multilateral institutions as fundamental instruments of global governance, focused attention on the key issue of food security.

Ahead of the G20 Summit on 30-31 October, the Italian Presidency aims to keep multilateralism alive by strengthening its actions and setting ambitious commitments. The role of the G20, which brings together the world’s leading economies, is crucial. Our expectation is a consensus within the forum on the need to base the recovery of our economies on the concept of “build back better”.

The feeling, in conclusion, is that the Italian Presidency of the G20 – with its concrete results – is just the tip of that iceberg called multilateralism, which often does not act in the limelight but which constantly works, drop by drop, in the search for consensus and the interest of the international community. And with the times dictated both by the urgency of the global challenges before us and by the level of willingness with which States decide to lend themselves to the method of international cooperation. A method that today, in our view, is no longer an option but the only way forward.

*Plenipotentiary Minister Alessandro Modiano, Deputy Director General/Principal Director for Global Issues

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